Changing Lanes: Mobility, Access, and the Right to the Streets in the Shaw Neighborhood of Washington DC

Authors: Rebecca Kukla*, Hunter College - City University
Topics: Urban Geography, Transportation Geography
Keywords: transportation, gentrification, Washington DC, bicycles, parking, identity, right to the city
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 2:40 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Poydras, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In October 2015, a town hall meeting in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC drew over 300 citizens. At issue was a proposal to build a protected cycle track down 6th St. NW, along side of several African American churches, including the giant United House of Prayer. The meeting turned into a heated exchange, with members of the church who were concerned about losing parking spaces claiming that the proposed plan violated of their constitutional right to the free practice of religion, while bike commuters and accused the congregants of being suburbanites who were privileging personal convenience over safety and the environment. Each side accused the other of not ‘really’ being from the neighborhood. As of today, the proposal remains on hold. Using spatial data on commuting paths, traffic patterns, and migration into and out of the neighborhood, quantitative data on modes of transportation, and ethnographic and photo documentation, I examine this multidimensional conflict over ownership of what is arguably the most historically significant and quickly changing neighborhood in the city. The conflict over use of these streets concerns material access, mobility, and control, but it is also a vivid manifestation of a deeper conflict over the meaning of the neighborhood and who belongs in it. At issue is the need for transportation that work for the District’s exploding and shifting population, as well as the risk that a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with rich significance for African American history is losing its identity as the heart of “Chocolate City.”

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